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Shady NST newsroom practices under spotlight

Sat 2012-May-19 @ +08 16:53:00 pm

The sometimes questionable practices of newsrooms at media houses will come under scrutiny when the New Straits Times faces two pending defamation actions arising from major political news stories.

One is the Xenophon affair, another is the Rahim Noor-Tuan Guru “kafir” story.

The reporters whose bylines were published with the stories have dissociated themselves from those stories. The words published were not the words they had written. On most occasions there is no fuss about this practice. Stories are rewritten or changed every day, usually for professional reasons: to make a story better, more interesting or more dramatic (or less insipid).

When something happens, a major error or boo-boo, it is most often politicians who make a huge ruckus, purely out of self-interest.

Politicians have their own media in which to raise a ruckus. Other people with similar complaints about news angling have no such vehicle and are drowned out by the politicians’ noise.

Harakah has been milking the issue with a string of reports to hammer the New Straits Times in this and the Xenophon case, and The Star over the Erykah Badu affair previously.

In these instnces it is always lowly reporters and lower-level editors who often pay the price of bad journalism because politicians let the real cause of such bad journalism get away: the editorial stooges and their political owners remain untouched.

In the Xenophon story, the reporter said he had not written what was published. (The reporter was serving his final days at the paper, having resigned earlier, and chose not to take up the matter with editors, I am told.)

The Tuan Gugu story carried reporter Rahmah Ghazali’s name as the lead byline. But she had only covered PAS vice-president Mahfuz Omar, and her story had ended up at the bottom of the Rahim Noor-Tuan Guru story as the final two paragraphs.

Who’s blamed: unseen owner, stooge editor, or reporter?

Yet she was given the lead byline as if she had written the main story. In the public eye she would appear to be the one responsible. (Harakah did say she had denied writing it.)

Another reporter, Nik Imran Abdullah, was credited for additional reporting: usually that means the reporter did some leg work and contributed facts or quotations, but didn’t actually write the story.

Who, then, should take the blame? The reporter whose name is on the published story? The unseen editor or rewrite person who re-angled the story? The unseen editor or sub-editor who decided to string the bylines together and put Rahmah’s name in front?

Shouldn’t it be the highly-paid editorial stooges and their political owners, the ones who look for ways to damage the reputations of opposition politicians, to take the rap?

Will PAS and Harakah, the DAP and Rocket, attack the real cause of bad journalism? Or will they and their supporters just take the easy way out and blame all reporters and editors, all journalists?

If you want to know the answer, just read the rabid comments of opposition party supporters in the comments section of any news site or any political news article.


  1. johan jamjan permalink
    Sat 2012-May-19 @ +08 19:07:41 pm 19:07

    How do you blame the unseen hands? Who are the editors, and why do they always get away with putting journalists name on the article without receiving due credit and avoid being sued?

    The issue is how would opposition or any maligned party (for which the opposition has been so often at the receiving end of Utusan, NST and Berita Harian) sue the editors if the editors hide behind journalists? Maligned parties generally do not have access to newsroom practice.

    The easy way is to divert the issue and blame opposition supporter commentors on online websites, who in my view are quite mild. In contrast, visit pro-UMNO blogs to see foul mouthed, rabid, porn prone papagomo and company. (Utusan’s rubbish front page on Azmin recently also worth a look). The onus is not on the maligned party, but the aggravators and collaborators who continuously take the opportunity to disparage opposition or any aggrieved party not in toe with UMNO.

    The solution would be for both journalists and editors must take responsibility and agree on the final shape and wording of the article prior to print.

    • uppercaise permalink*
      Sat 2012-May-19 @ +08 20:42:16 pm 20:42

      True, there is a foul-mouthed mob on the other side. But very often it is the journalist whose byline is on the story who gets the brunt of the criticism and sometimes foul-mouthed ones at that.

      The easy thing is to say to journalists: Quit or Get Out (as LKS once told me long ago), get out of a corrupt system. And then what? Get out and do what? Half the time, I suspect they’re just waiting for some sucker to get out into the cold in high dudgeon and then they’ll come faking sympathy to say, “Oh you got nowhere to go ah, come come we can help you”. Self-serving rubbish. Giving up journalism to become a party hack isn’t a choice.

      I’m not trying to make excuses for anyone here, but the ultimate solution is to institute rules on media ownership that will forbid ownership by political parties and to reveal ultimate ownership of shares.

      Aggrieved parties have my sympathy, but as long as they continue to settle out of court and never pursue the matter with rigorous questioning in open court the hidden hands will always get away. Ask Shahrir Samad what he did to Bernama long ago. Of course nothing much changed since, but it’s on the record what happened between the press conference and the final published story.

  2. Malchindian permalink
    Sun 2012-May-20 @ +08 05:45:16 am 05:45

    I am not pro-union but these are instances where journalists who are at the mercy of the unseen editors need union defence and backing when the integrity of the articles and their personal repute is compromised.
    The once highly revered career in journalism with impartiality has been sadly cheapened by the governing politicians. I believe that there is an avenue here for legal recourse if there is a legal champion brave enough to tackle this and trodden journalists angry enough to clear their names.

  3. Yell Ow permalink
    Sun 2012-May-20 @ +08 22:24:34 pm 22:24

    Link below has timeline of the deliberate smear against Senator Xenophon. It includes screen captures of the deleted articles from Utusan and NST.

    Note that you do not need to be a member to comment there ^

    Yes, Australian Senator Xenophon is moving ahead with his plans to sue Utusan and NST.

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